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The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has reopened public access to information on malpractice settlements and discipline taken against poor performing doctors.
But under its new data use agreement, publicly available information from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) cannot be reposted or used in combination with other information to identify a doctor.
HRSA took down its online public file of the NPDB Sept. 1, after a Kansas City Star reporter used the information to track down the identity of a doctor who had a long record of malpractice cases against him but was never disciplined by the state.
Now, if HRSA learns that data has been used to identify a doctor, it will ask that the data be returned, HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said in a statement.
The information can be used in statistical analysis and reporting, Wakefield said, such as “an article that talks about trends in malpractice or disciplinary actions that includes unidentified data to support the conclusions.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pushed HRSA to restore public access since the database was taken down. He previously asked Wakefield to explain her agency’s response to the Kansas City Star reporter, submit all communication between HRSA officials and the doctor that was identified in the story, and outline what steps they are taking to restore public access to the data bank.
HRSA’s new restrictions on the use of public information within the NPDB is “overreaching” and “restricts the use of the information much more than the law specifies,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a news release.
“This agency needs to remember that half of all health care dollars in the United States comes from taxpayers, so the interpretation of the law ought to be for public benefit,” he said. “One complaint shouldn’t dictate public access to federally collected data for 300 million people.”
It’s also unclear how HRSA would monitor and take back misused data, Grassley said. He said he is seeking legal opinions on HRSA’s interpretation of the law.